The Sun, the source of all life on Earth, is humming with activity as it approaches the peak of the solar cycle. In just two weeks, the star in our solar system has emitted 35 Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), 14 sunspots, and six solar flares, some of which have been directed away from us, while others have directly hit Earth. Coronal mass ejection is one of the largest eruptions from the Sun’s surface, capable of containing a billion tonnes of matter accelerated to several million miles per hour into space.
Meanwhile, sunspots are dark spots on the sun’s surface. They appear dark because they are cooler than the rest of the sun’s surface. Solar flares are a sudden explosion of energy caused by tangling, crossing, or reorganizing magnetic field lines near sunspots, Nasa has said. The solar cycle is an 11-year cycle in which the activity on the Sun ramps up, peaks, and then decreases. In the last few weeks, the activity has quickly ramped up, and Nasa stated that even though we haven’t reached peak levels in this cycle, the Sun’s activity is already exceeding predictions.
The American space agency’s Heliophysics Division is working on a mission that will provide critical advances in our understanding of the ionosphere-thermosphere (I-T) system and provide the first coordinated global-scale observations of the I-T region, where the effects of solar activity are frequently seen. ‘Solar events will continue to increase as we approach solar maximum in 2025,’ Nasa said in a blog update. ‘Our lives and technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space, will be impacted’.
WHAT IS A SOLAR CYCLE?
Understanding the Sun’s behavior and evolution is critical to understanding not only the evolution of the solar system, but also the evolution of life on Earth, and the Sun has a life cycle. The Solar cycle describes the Sun’s activity, which transitions from relatively calm to active and stormy, and then back to quiet.
According to Nasa, this 11-year cycle is characterized by solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can disrupt satellites and communications signals traveling around Earth. Solar maximum refers to the peak of the solar cycle, when the Sun’s magnetic poles flip, whereas Solar minimum refers to a quiet Sun. The 25th solar cycle, which is currently underway, began in December 2019.
SPACE WEATHER CHANGES
According to NASA, as the Sun’s activity increases, it will erupt with more eruptions as more sunspots form. ‘ We are becoming increasingly reliant on space-based technology and ground-based infrastructure that are vulnerable to the dynamic nature of space. This already stronger-than-expected solar cycle will be the first for many new commercial and government stakeholders to navigate’, NASA has stated. Over 35,000 objects in our planet’s ionosphere-thermosphere region, including the International Space Station, could be affected by solar activity.